UK Ministers facing new legal action over air pollution

Government ministers are facing the threat of new court action over their failure to tackle air pollution levels causing tens of thousands of deaths every year.

After a five-year legal battle by ClientEarth, the UK Supreme Court ruled in April that the Government must take immediate action to cut air pollution levels.

But a response to the ruling by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – slipped out on Saturday morning – failed to make any firm commitments to tackling the problem.

ClientEarth Lawyer Alan Andrews said: “The Supreme Court demanded “immediate action” to address Britain’s air quality crisis – five months later we’ve got another list of meaningless assurances and half-measures.

“The Supreme Court ordered Liz Truss to come up with a plan to achieve legal levels of air quality as soon as possible. Instead, even under the Government’s own projections, many cities in the UK will still have illegal levels of diesel fumes until 2020 and beyond.

“In London the problem is even worse – Defra projections say the legal levels of air pollution will not be reached until 2025.

“The plans contain only one new national measure: ‘clean air zones’ which would restrict older vehicles entering the most polluted city centres – but leaving it up to overstretched and underfunded local authorities to implement them.  We therefore don’t have any idea if or when these clean air zones will ever materialise.

“This simply isn’t good enough.  It isn’t good enough for ClientEarth, it won’t be good enough for the Courts.

“Most importantly, it isn’t good enough for the tens of thousands of people who this Government is prepared to let be made seriously ill by being forced to breathe polluted air.

“We will continue to do everything we can to force the Government to come up with a lawful plan, including returning to Court to force them to think again.”

This post was updated on 12 January 2017 to better reflect research into the health impacts of air pollution. Air pollution and your health – what are the facts?

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Olivier Harris